I try not to spend too much time in my own head, but a few conversations I’ve had recently have caused me to do some reflecting.
I recall a Paralympian being asked
Did you always dream of being a Paralympian?
No, not before my accident!!
Nobody born healthy plans to be a Paralympian, let alone disabled. It certainly wasn’t on my career plan at any age. I grew up, like so many, with no indication of what lay ahead for me. So how did I get here? Could I have done things differently? Would an earlier diagnosis have improved my prognosis? There are so many questions you can ask, but does it really matter now? I’m where I am and I’m going to make the most of it I can. Do I blame anyone for what’s happened? Was it my fault? Blaming anyone isn’t going to help, pent up anger is only going to expend precious energy, and nobody is perfect, we are not infallible. All we can do is learn from any perceived errors, and try to ensure they’re not repeated.
I write the rest of this from a position I’d become relatively unaccustomed to. I’m back in hospital after an emergency admission, just waiting to get my discharge letter.
Last night was a very long and drawn out procedure, including being told I could wait six hours for the OoH’s doctor, when the EMT who arrived first on the scene quickly identified that I couldn’t wait that long. Whilst we waited for the paramedics we chatted, amongst things he said that I must have done all the
why me? Why did this happen to me?
But in reality, no I didn’t. I was too busy trying to live the best life I could and as someone else once said,
why not me? What makes someone so special that they can avoid their share of difficulties?
I’ve now escaped hospital, after one of my more traumatic hospital experiences. The nurses were fantastic, I was looked after really well, but the actual situation was quite unnerving.
Anyway back to the original point, I’ve known from a very young age that I was different. I didn’t do the same things other children were doing. I never really fitted in, but because I was succeeding at school, (I was fortunate to have a strong interest in academia from very early on) nobody really paid much attention to my social interaction and other difficulties. It certainly made things more difficult as I went through school, but would having a diagnosis in childhood made things better? Or would it have just segregated me even further? I suspected in my teens I had Aspergers, but I didn’t know how to pursue it, and debated whether I wanted to be labelled, when I was having a hard enough time with the bullies on a daily basis.
I also remember being in pain from about the age of five. I particularly remember doing a vault at gymnastics and my knees made a huge cracking noise, which sent pain rushing down my legs. It was always passed off as growing pains, and I spent a lot of time with various bits of me strapped or in tubigrip. There were so many signs that there was something going on, like ‘spraining’ my wrist using a cookie cutter. That ‘sprain’ turned out to be a tear in my scapholunate ligament, which took doctors about 10 years to actually do something about. I was fortunate to be referred to a fantastic plastic surgeon in my early twenties who realised when he could manipulate the bones independently there was clearly something wrong. I owe so much of my hand function to him. As the tear had been left so long other problems had developed, including a thumb joint that spent more time in a dislocated position than it did in place. There was also the time I fell off an inch high curb, and tore ligaments in my ankle- that was a pretty lovely looking bruise!! These are just a few of the incidents. Warning signs were missed, none of my dive or gym coaches questioned all the strapping and injuries that in all honesty I couldn’t explain. I was identified as hypermobile, but that was it. I was doing sports that welcomed flexibility so I guess they weren’t too worried. I guess I do feel a bit let down by them, they just kept pushing and pushing, and didn’t worry that I got pain from doing any high board work. I hope situations like that now come under welfare concerns.
In general I was passed off as clumsy and a bit of a hypochondriac. The GP was fairly useless, we turned up in an emergency as my knees had completely locked straight after being outside for a fire drill. His response “don’t go out in the cold”, very helpful(!). I bumbled on like this for years, spending a lot of time in pain especially with the aforementioned wrist. I used to get in trouble at school as my writing changed style regularly, but it changed dependent on pain and strapping positions. Exams were a nightmare, so much pain whilst writing essays, but I was a case of ‘suck it up, and get on with it’. I passed them all and eventually started university.
I could spend time wondering if things wouldn’t have reached this stage had there been an earlier diagnosis. Instead I realise that the lack of any diagnosis from either aspect taught me to be resilient, determined, physically and mentally tough, motivated and generally it has caused me to be who I am, for which I’m grateful. The skills it taught may never have developed to such an extent had I not been through the situations I’ve been through. I honestly don’t know if I would change how I did things as I could have ended up being a very different person, and I’ve kind of grown to quite like me.
University brought more problems- I took up rowing, which my knees didn’t really agree with. I later discovered they were maltracking which was causing the pain. A physio put me back together on regular occasions, and again identified hypermobility, but said the knee pain was because my bones had grown faster than my muscles, so my knee caps weren’t sitting quite right. He diagnosed me with a few things he could tell I’d had previously, but still nobody took me very seriously. I learnt the art of strapping joints in place with tape, and that was it really.
Things started getting a lot more complicated when I went back to uni for my second year, a chapter of my life which was the beginning of the 5 years I spent with a misdiagnosis.
That however is another long story, but as I said originally none of this was in the plan, but nobody has a life that runs to plan, if they tell you they do, they’re lying!! We all have our obstacles to climb and hurdles to get over, some are just bigger and more plentiful than others.
Most people seem to believe rowers are insane for the conditions in which we train. My response is that I saw the “insanity line” and well and truly crossed it!! Actually most people would say that about many of my life choices, but this blog is going to focus on my attempt to rise through the ranks of the sport and become an -Olympic rower.
There are a few differences to my story though, which make it a bit more unusual, I am unable to walk and have problems with my trunk control thanks to a few complicated medical conditions. This means that I am classified as an “arms and shoulders” (AS for short) rower, which means, as name suggests, I row only using my arms and shoulders. You can find out more about ;Adaptive Rowing ;on the British Rowing Website.
I’m also unable to digest food properly and have to be fed through a central line into my heart which pumps a special aseptically prepared liquid into my veins overnight.
Given non adaptive rowers use their legs for the majority of their power, trying to shift basically the same boat, using your arms and shoulders only, certainly hasn’t made me the envy of my club members, who mostly think I’m mad for doing it, as they don’t much fancy it. The mischievous side of me thinks they all should try it, just to see what it’s like!!
For me it’s a dream come true. I know that sounds weird, but it’s the only way I’ve been able to take part in the sport I fell in love with back in 2004. The story of why I’m now an adaptive rower is a post for another time, but this has been the only way to facilitate the thing I’ve missed more than walking or eating normally. See, told you I had crossed the insanity line.
I have already started on the road to my ultimate aim, and I’ll bring you up to speed with that in another post as well.
This was just a brief, hello and to hopefully give you a taste of what’s to come if you stick with me. The exciting news is that I’ve been given tickets to the Paralympic rowing on Friday, which I’m very much looking forward to seeing, it’ll give me a taste of what’s to come and it’ll be an amazing experience to see those I aspire to be like, racing.